Coronavirus stimulus check scams use sophisticated fake calls, new apps to steal money

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There are more than 2 trillion reasons why scammers are descending on your smartphones and other devices. There are a number of sophisticated schemes associated with the federal stimulus money that you may be getting as early as this week. These scams are so sophisticated, it can be easy to fall for, leading people to give up banking information.

When you pick up the phone, you may think the call is coming from your bank because you hear the same music you've heard for years on the line.

"These fraudsters are so good, they are playing the hold music, the hold messaging, that they actually play," said Lori Hodges, vice president of Visa Risk Services for North America.

Sometimes you'll hear the same voice lifted from the legitimate bank's greeting.

"They are stealing the voice, absolutely," Hodges said.

According to Hodges, scammers use this music or greeting to make consumers believe the call is legitimate. Then a fake representative may ask for account details, saying they need more information to provide COVID-19 stimulus money or other assistance from the federal government.

In many cases the fraudsters already have personal information like your name; all they need is that missing piece of the puzzle, your account number or PIN.

"The banks and credit unions I speak to every single day have continued to describe to me the level of sophistication that these scammers have," Hodges said.

A similar scam hit I-Team consumer reporter Jason Knowles' phone by text, saying his card was suspended and he had to call a number.

"Welcome to Chase," he heard when he called. "Para espanol, oprima el asterisco. Please enter your debit card number, followed by the pound key."

The voice was familiar; it sounded just like the recorded Chase voice. But the phone number it came from, according to Chase, is not the bank. Chase said their cybersecurity team is aware and takes steps to mitigate.

Chase also emphasized consumers should never give personal or account information to anyone who calls, especially those threatening to close or suspend an account
"The big takeaway is your financial institution, your bank or credit union, is not going to call you to authenticate you with personally identifiable information they already have," said Hodges.

Scammers are also posing as government agencies, claiming they need personal information to send COVID-19 stimulus money.

"You look at this COVID-19 crisis, it is 200, 300, maybe 1,000-fold the amount of money that is devoted to this particular crisis. The opportunity for criminals to take advantage of people is tremendous," said Tom Edwards with the U.S. Secret Service. "I have never seen anything like this in my career."

Edwards, a special agent, wants people to know that if you qualify, stimulus money will be deposited directly into your account based off of your previous W2 electronic deposit information. Or a paper check would be mailed to your home without any government agency calling your or emailing you for additional details.

"Ignore the email, ignore the phone call, go directly to the source," advised Edwards. "We want people to really be careful at this time."

The Secret Service also warned that some apps which claim to track the COVID-19 pandemic could have been created solely to gather your personal information. You should stick to apps from government agencies or trusted sources.

They said they are prioritizing COVID-19 related scams right now and you should report them to them to the FBI or police.
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